When the Southington Town Council meets in August, members plan to present the Southington Community Cultural Arts volunteers with concerns regarding the projected renovation costs to transform into a community arts center.
The latest concerns have left members of the SCCA and supporters of the arts center frustrated, however, and have left SCCA president Mary DeCroce wondering if there are other motivations behind not allowing the project to move forward.
“We are not here asking for money, we are not asking for sustainability. We are just asking for an opportunity,” DeCroce said. “We have $20,000 in hand, as a grant, so that we can do a feasibility study to be conducted by certified architects. Why aren’t we using the money that has already been granted to conduct this study so we may answer any remaining questions?”
A memo from Councilman Peter Romano to members of the council expressed concerns that while the “preliminary construction budget” presented by the SCCA meets most standards for a typical construction project, there are aspects of the project that are not traditional and could be far more difficult to address.
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According to the report, which was provided to several media outlets on Monday, the concerns expressed centered around the analysis of cost, logistics and implementation of construction.
“A more in depth construction budget should be provided,” wrote Romano, a vice president and senior construction manager for a commercial construction management firm. “My understanding is that is the intention of the SCCA as their next step. I would recommend that this budget be completed and responses to the above concerns be submitted to the Town Council prior to the authorization of any construction work.”
Romano’s report focused on concerns regarding structural and hazardous material needs, as well as looking at phasing in the project, which he said in the letter to council members could lead to substantially larger costs while hindering early returns on rental space.
For a complete look at the memo submitted to members of the Southington Town Council and Board of Finance, .
But standing alone, DeCroce and Councilwoman Dawn Miceli said the memo is “out of place” and called the release of the report to the public before it was given the SCCA “upsetting.”
Miceli, who served as the chairwoman of the council-appointed Gura Building Use Committee, said she is concerned that there has been an effort by certain town officials to derail the project and criticized the continued analysis that has delayed efforts by the SCCA to conduct a feasibility study.
Romano’s report was submitted following a July 11 meeting where Romano, Council Chairman John Dobbins and Councilwoman Cheryl Lounsbury met with DeCroce, SCCA member Melinda Otlowski, a regional architect with Halcyon Architects, LLC, and Peter Veronneau, who would act as the construction manager for the project.
DeCroce said the majority of the concerns expressed in the report were discussed at the July 11 meeting and addressed at that time. She said they would also be addressed in writing at the Aug. 13 council meeting.
She said that there was no reason for the document to be given to news outlets before it was presented to the SCCA.
“It is so upsetting, has gotten to this point. Is this being done for political gain? It’s crazy,” DeCroce said.
Miceli and DeCroce each said the group is not looking to have the town turn the building over to the SCCA, but simply allow for an 18-month window to conduct the feasibility study with money already secured through a grant from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.
In a phone interview Monday, Miceli said the “new set of hoops” is above and beyond anything the town would require of a large corporation and exceeds any requirements that would be required by the .
“It’s fine that there are some concerns. That’s why a meeting was conducted,” Miceli said. “Every one has been addressed; or would be if the SCCA is allowed to do the feasibility study. The entire project now is being overthought now to a point where I have never seen project scrutinized in this fashion.”
Dobbins said he is surprised by the backlash, saying the document is designed to serve as an informational piece and is just a small part of the council’s responsibility of looking at the big picture.
He said it is not designed to serve as the sole basis for a vote and does not indicate how council members would vote on the project at all.
The council will also be receiving an independent analysis from a banker who specializes in construction loans and planning, Dobbins said, although the name of the banker has not been released.
“This isn’t decision making. This is fact finding,” Dobbins said. “It’s not meant to undermine or derail what the SCCA has done. It’s a design to help us look at the bigger picture so that the best information is available and an educated decision can be made by all the stakeholders involved.”
Still, Miceli said she views the level of scrutiny as a push by some to try and poke holes in the project and believes the time has come to give the SCCA a chance.
She said council members have every right to look at the facts and vote their conscience, whether for or against the proposal, but is “flabbergasted” by the demands that officials continue to place upon the SCCA, a group of volunteers who are doing all the work without receiving any money or stipend. She said it’s time to stop interfering.
“What’s great about this community is that there is a spirit of volunteerism, generosity and good will. This community is based on volunteers,” Miceli said. “As a council member, I believe it is my purpose to help the community and if I can’t, I will say I can’t and vote no. This is a shame.”
“At this point, it seems like we are chasing ghosts,” she said.
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